It's official - Marz is back by popular demand. The reincarnation of the former downtown bistro as Marz Cart in the Skjersaas parking lot on Century Drive, marked by a well-attended grand opening celebration last Thursday, says a lot about the loyalty of Marz fans and the logic behind Bend's recent food cart boom.
"There was huge demand from people in town that said 'we really miss Marz,'" explained Chef Rich Hall. "[The cart] gave us this opportunity to make a condensed version of the same food, the same feeling."
On opening day last week, Hall and business partner Matt Davis served up free samples to a crowd eager to be reunited with old bistro staples like the Asian Baby Back Ribs with Plum Hoisin BBQ Sauce. A free self-serve keg of Deschutes Brewery's Twilight Ale did not go unnoticed by patrons lurking around the cart like vultures waiting for the next slew of samples to come off the grill. Diners policed each other, and there were few utterances of: "Hey, you can't take two at once!" One woman announced that she'd be keeping her biking elbow pads on for the occasion, should things get feisty.
Hall and Davis see Bend's food cart craze as part of a national phenomenon offering chefs more freedom to experiment with creative cooking and have a small, mutable menu.
"It gives us the opportunity to not be confined by that structure that costs so much money, the drama, the crap that goes along with operating a restaurant. This is so much easier and so much less stress," explained Hall. "Small space, big flavor, no doubt about it," adds Davis.
Marz Cart's simple menu offerings are a reimagining of former bistro favorites. The Argentine Churrasco Steak, for example, is now served as a slider with chimichurri and marinated cucumber ($4.50). In true fusion style, Hall has put his own spin on Chimichurri, a popular South American sauce said to have originated from an Irish visitor to Argentina in the 19th century by using cilantro instead of parsley. He pulls it off well, though I see no excuse for using a Wonder bread-style bun in a town filled with local artisan bakeries.
On a recent visit, I tried the Thai Seafood Fritters ($3.50), a very satisfying little snack fried perfectly with a balanced saccharine and piquant flavor from the accompanying red curry aioli and sweet soy reduction. The side of slaw ($1.50) I had pairs nicely with the fritters or the Baby Back Ribs ($6.50/12) with its crisp mix of cabbage, bean sprouts, carrots and red bell pepper in a creamy tart marinade topped with sesame seeds.
Marz Cart is also selling a DIY Rib Kit, inviting fans to try their hand at making their own ribs at home. The kit, soon to be available in stores as well, will include a dry brine mix (just add water), glaze and their signature BBQ sauce. Buying the ribs is up to you.
When asked if our local food carts might someday team up and station themselves together in the vein of Portland food cart lots, Hall said, "We're all about cooperating with somebody that wants to do that." So, food cart fans, keep an ear to the ground and your eyes on unassuming parking lots and street corners for the latest on this quickly evolving world.
Skjersaas parking lot. 130 SW Century Dr.